by Shirley D. Horowitz, ASID, NICDQ
Interior Design since 1985
Interior Design since 1985
Funniest thing about rules. Once they're in place, and they've been observed for ages, nobody seems to know who wrote 'em. For example, does anybody know who first decided we should go on green and stop on red? And, for the men who may be tempted to laugh about interior design rules, I would ask, "Who first decided that 'clipping' is against the rules in a football game?" And, who came up with the term 'clipping'?
Nothing, but nothing on the football field looks like it's been clipped to me after one of those ridiculous rulings. But, I digress.
I must confess to being a rebel at heart. Rules, especially in creative areas have always bothered me. "Coloring inside the lines" seems horribly restrictive to a young, budding artist. Worrying about punctuation rules has undoubtedly slowed down the thoughts of many a great writer. And, design rules have served to produce many a look-alike environment. In fact, in all of the creative endeavors, I believe that rules were indeed made to be broken. And, the tragic irony of rules imposed on creativity, as in the case of sports rules or traffic rules, no one can remember from whence they came (note: this sentence did not end in a preposition).
Unlike many other rule 'origins,' I have a definite theory about the beginning of design rules. I firmly believe these rules go back to the Neanderthal Era. One of our ancient "cave mothers" who was an outspoken community leader, literally took control of interior design history.
Bored with her drab, non-symmetrical cave, and sick of having her husband bring home numerous unidentifiable non-coordinating skins from all sorts of beasts, she finally said, "Enough, already!" And, so, in order to make sure this wanton behavior ceased and to bring about some semblance of order, she instituted a set of rules. Here some familiar examples:
Note the frequent use of "never" and "no" and, though not in these examples, another design rule word which undoubtedly came from the cave: "always."
Our cave mother who was, you remember, bored to death with her mundane little cave and considered a community leader, carved these axioms in the stone walls at the entrance to her village. One by one the other women "caved in", and began to do their caves according to the rules. And soon, instead of being truly individual caves, all the prehistoric residences took on a common look.
To make matters even worse, the cave women had, so to speak, shot themselves in the foot. Now, denied their daily sport, cave hubbies were no longer dragging home unique skins. They chose instead to hang out underfoot all day and sit on lounge rocks or sleep. When they did occasionally venture out, some, being confused by the common look of all dwellings, went home to the wrong caves by mistake. It was not a pretty sight. Nor was it an interesting one. But, give credit where credit is due. This rule-driven, play-it-safe, ancient approach to designing has endured.
And, the rules chiseled in the wall of Neanderville are most likely still there in fragments. I believe that the discovery of these long-lost rules will rival the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls. And, trust me, they're out there somewhere. Otherwise, we would not have seen so many generations of designers and homemakers tenaciously adhering to them.
Now, having established where the design rules came from, I think we should examine the psychological forces which have, through the ages, chained us to our Neanderthal ancestors. After so much else has become extinct, why do these primitive design rules not only remain alive, but flourish?
I would propose that the answer lies buried deep within the human psyche. It is summarized in a single, often misused word: RISK. No, not fear; not inability, but RISK. Nowhere, but nowhere is RISK more lacking than in interior design. I've seen women, who've reared several children with ease, hyperventilate at the thought of an unusual paint color for a room. I've known people who thought nothing about public speaking become jelly-legged and sweaty-palmed at the idea of creative furniture arranging.
There's something about changing our environment that makes us particularly uneasy. We feel that our children will forgive us a huge mistake in child-rearing, and nobody will remember our dull speech at the PTA. But, God forbid we goof up the living room decor or choose the wrong wallpaper for the master bath! Surely for these unpardonable transgressions, some long-range, far-reaching eternal punishment awaits us!
Think of all the perfumes on the market today with alluring names such as: " Eternity," "Obsession," and " Forever." I'd like to come up with a new fragrance called " Risk." Imagine the benefits! A dab on the wrist; a dot on the throat, and the wearer instantly takes on an incredible amount of self-confidence. No more the weak-kneed, conformist, the "Risk" wearer is ready to break new ground, even in interior design! Well , how about it! Let's put an imaginary dab of " Risk" on each wrist and get ready to break some rules!